Where Is Your Holy Ground?

Exodus 3.5: Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

“Standing on Holy Ground,” evidence of said declaration in many points in the Bible.  I find the Exodus text probably the first.

Holy Ground.  For sure, if he’s to take off his sandals, the reference is to the earth.  I get that.  Ask me about Holy Ground and I only go to one place mentally if not literally:  Standing by Haystack Rock on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Cannon Beach, Oregon.  In fact, I don’t know I’ve ever walked by it not barefooted.  Ah, for me the holiest of ground.  Would be my place if I ever had a choice, to more on beyond this life.

Over the years, though, I’ve come to appreciate, and yes, have the boldness to define Holy Ground as much more than venue.  Actually, hardly ever venue.

Because I consider the “more Holy Ground” even in the Exodus passage as Moses is trying to figure what his spiritual GPS is guiding him…to not be the ground as much as defining the relationship.

Ah, that’s it for me.  Holy Ground is when we…you and I…you and others…I and others…are in a relationship where we focus upon caring and compassion, when we make it clear, we’re more into understanding than judging.

I saw this today in the Mr. Rogers’ quote…it spoke to me about how Holy Ground is realized, whether or not we have our sandals on.  Goes like this:



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Life Is NOT Harmless

I’ve maintained, well before my ordination on June 17, 1966, the most important value for any person, regardless of race or creed or team they support [!] is to have empathy. Empathy, not sympathy. The latter has a condescending component, not “with” a person but “for” a person. Empathy is to prioritize understanding over judging. Even more, to let the “other” know they are not alone, you will do what you can to be a source of benefit.

In the political arena, a lack of empathy means a person will do whatever is necessary to hold the upper hand, to never become vulnerable and to discard the reality of others, no matter how pressing, to be kept at distance. Even ignored…or, dare I offer the word—yes I do—a HOAX. For instance, when President Trump said that for 99% of people tested positive for COVID “it is harmless.”

That’s infuriating. At least from my view on the bridge. But especially when someone I know—or even if they’re stranger—to not believe COVID impacts.

Some examples…a person shared both the mother and father are isolated. No visitors…and their room doesn’t have a window to the outside so a wave and a sign of love would not be seen. And to know that COVID die, very alone. Not harmless to the family and friends?

Then I received this from a 60-year friend, want to share. The situation is excruciating.

“Just found out why a friend hadn’t gotten back to me with a piece of information I’d asked for. Oh Mark .. it hurts. She has a 20-year old daughter and a son going (hopefully, depending on how schools go) into his junior year of high school. They’d been careful. Her daughter’s friend-female had gone to a party. What I’m getting to and what you already know is that my friend’s daughter has now tested positive – as well as the son. They’re self-quarantined. Told friend, ‘I’m praying for and sending love to all that small group of friends.’ Would you please say a prayer for them?     Thank you.”

This so impresses me about my friend who asks for prayers. Because she has dealt with the tragedy of having her daughter, an only child, murdered after leaving a cash station.

I cannot imagine the impacting of COVID. To say it’s harmless is as insulting as you can get. Worse than that, but my blog’s remain G.

May we never forget caring…and no less, have understanding and support be the best duo-objective ever.

A deal?



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Don’t Become Numb

In pondering today’s world, often described as a “debacle,” there’s one word that I fear.  Will get to that word in a moment.

This morning I read this quote from Senator Duckworth, a veteran who lost both legs in combat and who has been excoriated for her refusal to give in to rants saying, “We are just fine in the country.”  She disagrees.  This is her quote:

“Attacks from self-serving, insecure men who can’t tell the difference between true patriotism and hateful nationalism will never diminish my love for this country,” Duckworth wrote, “or my willingness to sacrifice for it so they don’t have to. These titanium legs don’t buckle.”

I find that quote relevant…distinguishing between what is patriotism and hateful nationalism.

More…have a hunch which may lack verity in terms of individuals who don’t wear masks.  Here it is:  when someone doesn’t wear a mask it appears to me a declaration of arrogance…they are not vulnerable, at least in their psyche, to be captured by COVID.  I also think it’s a brazen way to declare, No one’s going to tell me how to live.

The list continues as the Supreme Court makes it clear no one’s above the law.

It goes on, ad nausea.

Two responses that I find heart full.  First, an editorial from our South Central Conference Minister, Campbell Lovett.  He wrote yesterday it is easy to become consumed by all the hate and detritus of political fracturing language…that blaming seems to be mantra.  His challenge to getting caught, is to seek instances where someone has given their time, even their lives, to help someone else.  It is what I would term, “the ministry of caring.”

Thank you, Campbell.  Important to prioritize how we function.

The second caution struck me this morning…what is easy.  What is tempting.  And, for many of us, probably in control.  Namely, to BECOME NUMB TO IT ALL.

May that not be.  Sure.  Not to be consumed.  Sure.  Not to find good news not sought.  But, also, not to think the untowardness of our daily living should completely cast aside the true focus on what makes each of us considerably valuable.  It is to not become numb, as if the hanging slams of others makes no difference.

Okay.  On with life…on with the day.  And.  On with knowing our lives matter and how we respond to each day may be numbing from outside sources.  But, may the outside sources not call all the shots.  Okay?



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River Runs Through US

In writing my life narrative—as in memoir—I included the moments which impacted my life and strengthened my living. Or. Something like that. Of course, experiences when I had to reach up to touch bottom, but the untoward were always instructive, times for learning.

Perhaps the best philosophy that I have never considered trite nor banal nor pedantic came from the end of a morning radio program; think the station was either KOIN or KWJJ [my contemporaries can correct me on the station.]. Heard it every morning as a child—my mother shared it with our family. Ending went this way, “Today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.”

Today is a new day…and what I found on my Facebook is this picture:

I will not minimize it. The particular is the picture was taken by my wonderful friend, who “happens” to be my Oregon fishing guide, Chris Vertopoulos. In my world he is Zorba and I am Padre. The dawn of a day…think it’s on the Willamette River…may be the Columbia. One or the other. A tugboat cruising its day. Today HAS to be a great day for Zorba because yesterday he and his clients hooked 6 Summer Chinook salmon, boating 3.

But, more for me. Yes, absolutely, the relationship with Zorba…and so many of you. Because you are blessing from God. But, more, I’m alive! Learned today from Amazon that my new book, River Runs Through Me, is now in paperback, will be available for purchase July 23-25. I feel really good physically, having done my ½ mile walk. See the cardiologist today to learn if my AFIB is gone. They said immediately following the cardioversion it was.

But, even more than being alive. Today is God’s gift to each of us. No matter what. Please. When you consider your own space…the time, the place, the how you are…know down deep that God will always take care of you, will never leave you.

Zorba?” Thanks for this picture…and, hopefully my “tomorrow” will include some time with you on the river, a river that runs through all of us! Ah, being on the water…being with friends…and the reel singing. YES!

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Mary, Did You Know?

I’m tempted…really tempted…to launch on today’s news…Mary Trump’s book, the verbal slashing of Senator Duckworth, called a coward, the obvious conflict between President Trump and Dr. Fauci…

But I won’t.

Instead I want to “go biblical.” One of the most powerful statements in the Bible is in answer to Moses’ question to God. Moses was told to go to his people and tell them they will be delivered. Moses, not short on wisdom, said he’d do that, but he needs a name, “Whom should I say sends me?”

The answer is riveting, “I AM WHO I AM.” At first that blushes with vacancy. What kind of name is that? Well, this is the “what.” In Hebrew there are no being/linking verbs…all those Miss Carter taught me in the 8th grade, “be, am, is, are, was, were, been…” Rather, I AM WHO I AM means, “I will be with you always and will be there no matter what. I will be with you!”

Not sure of you, but I am of me. I NEED to know that. Given all the dismal facts, deaths headed toward 140,000 from COVID and the wrangling about who’s telling the truth these days. I NEED to know God won’t give up on me.

To that end, I invite you to listen to the Pantatonix. The best part of this song, ”that sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am…”

May that be for each of us…no matter. No matter where or how we are this day, July 8, 2020, we know God as I AM WHO I AM.



Mary, Did You Know?


Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Oh

Mary did you know?


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Bells For A New Day

The image is never lost. No matter where or when I hear, “Amazing Grace,” I go somewhere. Well, wrong. Not somewhere. I go to the Good News Church Soup Kitchen.

They gather…the most bedraggled and wretched [their own declaration] you can imagine. There’s Joe and Sam, home is cardboard boxes in an alley. There’s “T,” who has two little girls, whose livelihood is getting paid for “sexual flavors,” [her phrase]. I told her that she’s wrong, that “T” is not for tramp or trash. Nope! I told her the inner beauty and the reality of motherhood could redirect her, so “T” now stood for TREASURE! She agreed. There was Victor. He had one option for another meal…it was to find open houses on the Gold Coast, off Lake Shore Drive just north of Chicago. Victor somehow had put together a suit, actually fit, with shirt and tie and shoes that matched. He’d “stop in” to the open house, making sure the buffet line was ready. Clever if not honest. He didn’t have two dimes to buy anything. Yet, Ralph ate, at least the one Thursday night I was there as the Soup Kitchen Pastor.

Before the meal, a buffet meal prepared by 30 different churches for over 250 men, women and a smattering of children, I invited them to sing, “Amazing Grace.” They know the words, they have experienced the value of the words, because they ARE in the text!

There are more than images. Each 4th Thursday, for six years, I went early to visit the neighboring stores, to “feel the pulse” of Chicago’s poorest community, at least when it came to nickels and dimes. One time as I walked near a school ground I hear the “pop.” It wasn’t July 4th. I saw the body heaped on the ground next to the school’s brick wall. The ambulance arrived shortly. The help was on the way. Then a shriek, “Oh my God! THAT’S my son.” It was the EMT’s son, shot in the leg. Cannot imagine the horrifying moment.

Then Jasper from across the street from the soup kitchen. Jasper was building a Women’s Center, to help abused women. He cut his arm and was rushed to the hospital. They did an x-ray to see what needed to be done. The x-ray technician made a mistake…yes, he x-rayed the saw wound, but also got in the x-ray Jasper’s lung. It was a mistake. Well, truth heralded, no it wasn’t. The x-ray showed a tumor in Jasper’s lung…taken care of by surgery. His life’s calendar wasn’t shortened by an x-ray technician’s mistake.

All those images, those experiences, the good and bad and ugly. Not one of us is invulnerable to all of life, its happenstance. It is that imaging I explored as a friend sent me a gift.

Here’s the background of that friend and what he sent yesterday morning:

Yesterday, July 6, a dear, dear friend, Don Essig from Eugene—he and I attended Camp Adams in Molalla, Oregon, members of Pilgrim Fellowship of the Oregon Congregational Churches. Don is the “Voice of the Ducks,” and has been for 1,000 years, football and basketball games. He shared these “Bells,” saying it’s a great way to start a day.

I hope it is for YOU! Whoever and wherever and however you are. Be quiet, turn off the noise of life and let the bells bring you AMAZING GRACE, being a wretch or not, being blind or not…know that God brings grace and hope, the new day! Bring it on!



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Make A Difference

Make a difference.

When you read that, what’s the first name that comes to mind? The person who’s made a difference in your life?

In my “walking the human landscape,” no one name dominates. Although there are many who would fit in the “prominent” category.

When I saw the incredible narrative about this teacher, I’d think of Miss Agnes Carter, my 8th grade teacher at Vernon Grade School, across from Alberta Park, in Portland, Oregon. I am proud she’s a highlight in my life…put mildly. In any case, as you think about “make a difference” people [and, be sure, they don’t all have to have made a positive impression—for, there are those who are so contemptible, it has encouraged me to be a polar opposite, as unlike them as possible!!]—take a minute and read about how one teacher changed one student’s life…at least…this is an amazing story.


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Flavor of the Day–Communication

I never earned an academic degree in communication. Was very basic with History and Psychology in college and Pastoral Care in seminary.

However, over the years [put minimally] I’ve picked up some pointers. For “whatever reason,” communicating skills is my personal flavor of the day.

A very wise minister once told me a key in communicating: Make sure you keep the ratio of two ears and one mouth.

Another said, be careful when someone wants to share with you an intimate fracturing when they ONLY speak in the third person. He cited Bundy as a case in point. Well, I haven’t met a Bundy, at least that I know. But I did have one of those conversations when the sharer kept the monologue in the third person. It did turn out the topic was horrid. Enough of that.

Another: watch the body language. Do they keep eye contact? Or, do they look over your shoulder for the next contact?

Remember in a seminary class the professor, who was gifted in listening, gave another clue in good communication, Don’t be afraid to paraphrase, making sure you are current with the ideas of the one speaking to you. Always say back what you’ve heard…in other words. That indicates you care, you pay attention and you’re not falling behind.

More on body language. A friend, with whom I share some political leanings if not tilts, said this, Beware, when you are trying to tell something to someone, what do they do with their arms. I pushed for more. He continued, If they fold their arms tightly across their chest, it means they have no interest in what you say, particularly if it’s an advisory on how they can improve their manner of living.  He went on to identify President Trump as a “folded-arms-guy,” balking anything he might not like.

I thought about that and started to pay attention. At least in body language he was right! Yet, in a novel I’m finishing, The Poet, a character has folded arms, almost always. The “take” on that is, he folds his arms as his only gesture of self-security. He needs to support himself, so folded arms are actually positive for his self-image, an example he is insecure and needs to prop himself up.

Well, on a Sunday morning…communication. A relational dynamic that hopefully helps you look in a mirror, then reflect after a visit with someone, even if virtually, to ponder, HOW AM I DOING?

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Happy Interdependence Day

It is July 4, 2020

I heard most of President Trump’s Mt. Rushmore speech last night. Perhaps you did, too. Even if not, I am sure you are aware of his thematic approach that the current culture is destroying American history.

Certainly there are those who endorse that racially dividing history, even mouthing praise for Andrew Jackson. Yep, that’s what freedom’s all about.

In all this…how history happens in the future…that is, how WE create the history of our day. Which is a way of speaking our values. OUR values this day.

This morning that theme, creating the history of today, I went to 9th and Fremont in Portland, Oregon.

Let me explain.

On that corner I was baptized and confirmed and ordained. Baptism in 1940, confirmation n 1953 and ordination in 1966.

The building on the corner had a name: Zion Congregational Church. Formed by my ancestors, immigrants from Nordka, Russia. Most of them had been born in Germany, then went to Nordka along the Volga River. They went because they were promised no conscription, land to farm and religious freedom.

Before the 19th Century gave way to the 20th all bets were off. They became immigrants again, including both sets of grandparents, the Miller’s and the Schnell’s. Somehow made it to the United States in cattle steerage boats, then got across our country to Portland. Many settled near 9th and Fremont, across the street from Irving Park.

Early in my life, the church, as you can anticipate, was “very German.” The English sermon was shorter than the Auf Deutsch sermon. And in truth, although I cannot document, but it seemed to me if you weren’t a Schnell, Miller, Schmidt, Spady, Deines, Krieger, Klein…well, you get the idea. Sehr Deutsch.

Then, sociology took over. None of the children or grandchildren, who aged, stayed. They left for newer land. With that, the new residents were not German, let alone Caucasian.

The meeting was held, “What should we do?” with the theme pushed to change venue. Called sociologically “White Flight.”

My mother, God bless and rest her soul, believed with clarity and passion the congregation should “stay where we are, bringing value to our new residents.”

The vote, as you can appreciate, didn’t agree with her or my father.

I think of that today. My mother. My father. Their vote. But, so much more. Their commitment that race should not divide…or be ignored. Rather, EACH person is a child of God and each of us, yep, you and I, are called to create history today.

Not to praise Andrew Jackson. Rather. To see how we can be the “presence of the holy,” no matter where or how we are.

On this day flags will wave. On this day the skies will sparkle with light, flashing all around. But. May it also be on this day that we think more than INDEPENDENCE. May we be committed to interdependence, that we each count. Happy Interdependence Day!

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Freedom Cannot Stand Alone

Am pondering…not a bad pursuit…what freedom means. Don’t have any deep insight that doesn’t echo your own.

I do know that freedom doesn’t mean do whatever you want. I believe with freedom comes impact. When it’s possible, and that doesn’t always consequence, think about the impact of what you do or don’t do.

Take wearing masks. The only place I don’t wear a mask is in our Leander home. Otherwise, even to drive to get the mail and no one’s around, I wear a mask. For sure any shopping, which is kept at a minimum. Doesn’t make any sense to me to not wear a mask. Believe in this day, July 3, 2020, not wearing a mask is losing endorsement…at least at many stations of life.

More, though, pondering on this Friday morning.

I don’t believe freedom ever happens with value without a full measure of responsibility. I cannot do whatever I want. Oh, that’s so difficult. For instance, you know that fishing for me is the best way to live. And, yes, as I shared yesterday with my fishing buddies, to measure in full my endorsement of the value of fishing I do have a character in one of my novels who says, “If there’s not steelhead fishing in heaven? I’m not interested!” Hey, some truth, but the vanity of that doesn’t push to the ultimate.

Back to responsibility. As I’ve reflected upon more than a few decades, three things became clear to me in the ordering and at times, disordering of my life.

First, how setbacks need to be dealt with. Those who know me know I was bullied in high school. You know I was divorced. You know that not all my ministries proved endearing let alone enduring. Yet, I know and feel good about it—never looking to plunge into a setback [for instance I would never dive into an empty pool!] each negative, each setback, each time when I was treated as trash, I came out of the heap in better shape. In fact, setbacks were great lessons…and repetition, when it was my fault, never had, at least in my memory, an echo in the new day.

The other two dynamics that are so very evident, have to do with how I’ve always lived.

To be direct, maybe even blunt: I have no regard—push that I am intolerant—for racism and homophobia. On the latter I have maintained all my life that sexual orientation is not a decision; it is a discovery.

Racism. As you know, an unfortunate partner to COVID is how racial fracturing holds a firm hand. It is the guy shouting “White Power!” Hey! How about “People Power?” How about judging each child as a gift of God? How about paying more attention to the color of the heart than the skin?

I used to be quiet. Yep. That’s really the truth. When someone ranted in a manner that gave someone no humanity—be they gay/lesbian/transgender, or non-white. No more. I speak directly—never shout, but am firm, “You’re not living well. Your bias lessens your value.”

Sure. Some tell me to go to hell. Well, honestly? When that happens, I figure it this way…they are asking me to join them…where they are right now!

Okay. Friday morning. Freedom, responsibility…don’t separate them. Make sense?

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